WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Mike Smith
Upon my retirement from teaching photography at East Tennessee State University for thirty-six years, I had an opportunity to create an exhibition of my recent work at the B. Carroll Reece Museum. That show was titled Parting Shots. The works here were chosen from that exhibition.
Carter County, Tennessee, 2013 A realistic appearing toy gun mounted as a chevron on the hood of a car. The owner was a devil worshiper. The palette of many images included in Warning Shots includes red; to me it suggests violence, as in blood.
This selection of works partially represents my response to the national election cycle of 2016. During that year the Republican primary debates, the subsequent presidential campaign, and the questionable election results inflicted upon our country an alarming level of animus and division. Widespread bigotry highlighted our nations’ growing religious intolerance, continual racial inequality and hatred, profound economic disparity, frightening homophobia, unending misogynistic attitudes and violence against women, our continually escalating gun violence, and a pervasive level of sexism. Those “values” are manifest in these pictures. I include children because their moral compass is subject to daily challenges within this toxic environment. Not only are they listening, as is often said, they are also looking. So am I.
Bristol, Virginia, 2012 Racism. I see it every day I am out working with my camera. Please note the revolver pointing directly at the reader in the upper- right corner. The shadows, including my own, appear purple as well as the figures.
Carter County, Tennessee, 2016 This window, located on the back side of a shed, faced an expansive, beautiful farming landscape I was studying. Often I literally stumble upon my subjects. I work without preconception of what I might find on any given day and accept what I do find as raw material for my photographs. The picture to me, in context to the other images in Warning Shots, suggests a faded glory, akin in some way to the Confederacy.
Southwest Virginia, 2015 Usually a nutcracker is related to Christmas. This one, its noose and red spattered paint on the distant structure, conjures all manner of bad.
Watauga County, Tennessee, 2014 Some days are better than others. I met this poised young lady in Watauga, a very small hamlet between Johnson City and Elizabethton. I would venture to say that there are not many African-American families living there. Children are sandwiched between dark and dubious values in Warning Shots.
A forthcoming book titled Warning Shots will include these and other works relating to the topics above.
Southwest Virginia, 2015 A relatively bizarre modern-day expression of Confederate “heritage.” Made by a man who named his property “The Confederate Estates.” I think of it as a head on a platter. One could also see the dish as representing technology, or a means to broadcast and receive information, including racist values.
Mike Smith’s photography will be included in Cumberland Gallery’s exhibit Discontent running from March 3 through April 14. He will be present for the opening reception on Saturday, March 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, please visit www.cumberlandgallery.com. See more of Smith’s work at
Carter County, Tennessee, 2014 Again, central to the book, Warning Shots, are family and children. Violence and racism are themes touched by many of the images included. This photograph of the broken family on the porch includes a rebel flag; a lost cause, reflected in the window. Among the trash and the discarded children’s portrait are the family dog and an oxygen-starved, cyan dad, partially obscured in the heap.